Tuesday, February 28, 2006

the worship ministry of tomorrow

Recently, I was asked to be part of a panel for a class that was discussing the topic: Worship Ministry for the Next Generation Church. I was extremely honored to be asked and very much enjoyed the experience.

I thought I would post some of what I shared with the class. So here you go:

This is an interesting topic: Worship Ministry for the Next Generation Church. I think the only logical progression for our Worship Ministries is more guitars, louder drums and faster moving video backdrops. Thank you, have a great day.

No…no, I’m kidding.

But it is kind of funny…musically speaking, that does seem to be the next step, doesn’t it. I mean, there has been a progression to it. It started with an acoustic guitar and an over-head projector and now we’ve got electric guitars (and their beloved delay pedals) and moving video behind the words. I remember in high school, and even my first couple years in college, a worship band was a rare thing...oh, the good old days of the mid to late 90’s. But as hard as that may be to remember, it’s true. And what is interesting is that it seemed to take no real leadership to lead worship…at least with teenagers and college students (which is who I was leading at the time). Having the band, utilizing the dynamics of the drums and guitars…everybody was just right there, right from the start. There was an anticipation, an excitement. The atmosphere and tone of worship were set right off the bat. The style of music and the songs were new and fresh and so different from what we were all raised with and used to. I honestly feel like it was easy leading worship, in contemporary settings, in those days.

But now…well, now we have an entire generation of Christians who were raised with “the worship band”. True story: one Sunday I was sitting behind one of our church's core families. The gentlemen who was speaking said something about an old church hymnal. And I heard the 12 year old daughter of this family lean over and ask her mom, “What’s a ‘hymnal’?” I’m not kidding. She had no clue…she’s never seen one before. They are just as used to the new songs and the new instruments as we were with hymnals and the piano.

It takes more than just showing up with a band to lead worship today.

And actually, I am really happy about that. Because the cool songs and the cool instruments have had their day in the sun and can now take their rightful place in the “worship ministry tool-box” right alongside the organ and the ancient hymns.

No musical style is effective at igniting passion in a lifeless church and if the church is aflame, no style can quench it. They are tools, plain and simple. And we need to view them only as tools. Tools to be used as necessary and as relevant.

I have recently been attending a church here in town on Sunday nights that, although having a younger congregation, practices a very liturgical approach to worship. And frankly, those services are more passionate and alive than most contemporary worship services I have attended…or even led. The musicianship is…okay, definitely not spectacular. But the heart of that congregation is so focused on honoring and pleasing God, that it really doesn’t matter.

Establishing that kind of heart in a church body is incredibly difficult. I don’t know that I can tell you how to do that. I do know that it takes humility and a complete lack of self-dependence in what we do. It takes authenticity, men and women that have obviously been spending time in prayer and worship through out the week. It takes worship leaders who hunger and delight in Christ and who live God-entranced lives. It takes time and prayer and investment.

And it takes putting our people way, way before our performance. It takes stepping off of the stage. It takes putting our instrument down. It takes loving our people.

So, Worship Ministry for the Next Generation Church:
I don’t know...
Maybe projector screens are the new stained glass window.
And maybe the acoustic guitar is the new organ.
And maybe Chris Tomlin is the new Charles Wesley.
I don't know...

But I do know that a produced atmosphere with a rockin' sound system and cool lighting designs is NOT the new group of Christ-followers gathered together to humble themselves before their God to bring Him honor and glory and praise.
And I do know that a raised hand is NOT the new fully-devoted heart.

And...I know that new doesn’t mean better, and it doesn’t mean worse.

Our goal as Worship Ministers is the same today as it was yesterday, and as it will be tomorrow: to either express or awaken authentic, heartfelt satisfaction in our God. If I can lead my congregation into being a group of people who are obsessed with God as their treasure, their delight, their only gain in life or death; if the beauty, truth and worth of Jesus are seen and magnified, well then, the form will be secondary...as it ought to be.

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